NASA Mars rover Curiosity has snapped an image on Mars of a specimen of one of the most common class of space rocks found on Earth – iron-nickel meteorite.
The image was taken during October 27 drive and according to mission team scientists the smooth-surfaced rock is indeed an iron meteorite. NASA says that the meteorite was examined with Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. The instrument was able to detect iron, nickel and phosphorus, plus lesser ingredients, and that the instrument is still working on the specimen. Analysis is being carried out using a spectrum of light produced from dozens of laser pulses at nine spots on the object.
NASA mission team says that the ample of nickel and phosphorus in the meteorite at same points suggests the presence of an iron-nickel-phosphide mineral that is rare except in iron-nickel meteorites. Iron meteorites typically originate as core material of asteroids that melt, allowing the molten metal fraction of the asteroid’s composition to sink to the center and form a core. Astronomers say that iron meteorites are key to retrieving information about how asteroids broke up, with fragments of their cores ending up on Earth and on Mars. Also, Mars may have sampled a different population of asteroids than Earth has.
In addition, the study of iron meteorites found on Mars — including examples found previously by Mars rovers — can provide information about how long exposure to the Martian environment has affected them, in comparison with how Earth’s environment affects iron meteorites. Egg Rock may have fallen to the surface of Mars many millions of years ago. Researchers will be analyzing the ChemCam data from the first few laser shots at each target point and data from subsequent shots at the same point, to compare surface versus interior chemistry.
Egg Rock was found along the rover’s path up a layer of lower Mount Sharp called the Murray formation, where sedimentary rocks hold records of ancient lakebed environments on Mars. The main science goal for Curiosity’s second extended mission, which began last month, is to investigate how ancient environmental conditions changed over time. The mission has already determined that this region once offered conditons favorable for microbial life, if any life ever existed on Mars.